Wednesday, October 26, 2005

St. Charles County: Less Fragmented?

St. Charles County: Less Fragmented?

Put simply, St. Charles County MO has a lot fewer governments than St. Louis County MO. There is currently talk of merging some fire districts there, although it seems highly unlikely a single countywide fire protection district would be created. A commission was created to discuss these issues about one year ago.

St. Charles County (2004 estimated population 320,734) has 17 cities, towns, and villages - but most of the population lives in just three: the City of St. Charles (est. pop. 61,253), the City of St. Peters (est. pop. 53,397), and the City of O'Fallon (est. pop. 63,677). There are, however, large heavily-developed unincorporated areas, particularly south of Highway 94; and of course even larger mostly rural unincorporated areas in the northern and western parts of the county.

The most consolidation, arguably, is evident in St. Charles County school districts. Whereas St. Louis County has 23 school districts, plus part of Meramec Valley (Pacific) and the countywide Special School District, St. Chuck has only five:

1) Orchard Farm School District (officially known as St. Charles County R-5), which serves the largely rural bottomlands in the northeast part of the county, but also includes New Town at St. Charles within its boundaries. Until now, the district had one high school, one middle school, and one elementary school.

2) City of St. Charles R-6 School District, which is now considering closing one or more of its seven elementary schools because of budgetary constraints. The smallest district in the county geographically, it is more-or-less contiguous with St. Charles city itself, but not perfectly so - after all, the New Town is located within a recently annexed part of the city. The district also has two middle schools and two high schools (St Charles High and St Charles West).

3) Francis Howell R-3 School District, which encompasses basically the southern part of the "Golden Triangle" between I-70, Highway 40 and the Missouri River, as well as the August A. Busch Wildlife Preserve and the New Melle area in the western, rural part of the county. The original high school is located right next to the wildlife preserve, pretty far from the current population concentration; hence two other high schools have been opened, rather prosaically named Francis Howell North and Francis Howell Central. Francis Howell also has five middle schools and ten elementary schools.

4) Fort Zumwalt R-2 School District has been one of the fastest growing districts recently, since it serves much of O'Fallon and part of St. Peters. They now have three high schools, also prosaically named FZ North, FZ South and FZ West. They have four middle schools and twelve elementary schools, too. Probably more to come, too.

5) Wentzville R-4 School District is now absorbing some of the most recent growth in Dardenne Prairie and the outskirts of Lake St. Louis/Wentzville. They now have two high schools - Holt and Timberland - plus three middle schools and five elementary schools. Definitely more to come, and no lack of controversy surrounding the siting of the new schools.

(Augusta, MO and vicinity in far southwestern St. Charles County is located in the Washington MO School District.)

So, while there may be fewer units of government in St. Charles County, whether they are truly more efficient than in other places is debatable. The very randomness of development patterns and municipal annexation patterns places major strains on school district planners.

On the other hand, St. Louis Public Schools has arguably not kept pace with its internal population shifts, and school closing/opening decisions have not necessarily been made in a logical way. For example, in the entire Second Police District - area bounded by Highway 40, South Kingshighway, Gravois, and the city limits - there are only two regular elementary schools - Buder on Lansdowne at Macklind, and Mason on Southwest at Sulphur. In this same area, there are zero regular middle schools and zero regular high schools.

However, many of the magnet schools are clustered within this area. Of the 25 true magnet schools, 10 are located within the 2nd police district: two high schools (Gateway and Central); three middle schools (Busch, Bunche, and Compton/Drew); and five elementary schools (Dewey, Kennard, Mallinckrodt, Shaw and Wilkinson).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The 2nd District is largely white, middle-income, hardly a demographic usually attracted to SLPS or any other inner-city school system. So, while magnet schools offer diverse citywide enrollment, it would make sense that SLPS would locate magnet schools here to attract Southwest City white families seeking to send their kids to a "neighborhood" school. In such case, the magnets being a neighborhood school by location, in proximity to where families live, who hope to get their kids enrolled by lottery.

Ironically, Buder and Mason (plus Woerner in Holly Hills) are really more so the diverse "neighborhood" schools within largely white neighborhoods, in the sense that these non-magnet public schools do have geographically based open enrollment, only taking South City kids. Though their enrollment areas are fairly large, from Tower Grove/Morganford to the City Limits, that still means kids and their parents live near by.

The problem, however, is that magnets, despite being citywide enrollment, are seen as having more active parents, and thus more studious kids. Afterall, their parents fought to get them in that school, whereas the regular public school takes in transient families moving from one apartment to another throughout the year. Thus, magnets will continue to attract more middle-income families than the true neighborhood schools of SLPS that are non-magnet.